Chen was the second child of a poor cooper. When he was six years old, his father and uncle opened a lumberyard, and Chen was able to attend a primary school run by charity. His schooling, however, was often interrupted by the need to help out at the lumberyard.
At age 16, Chen entered the Powen Middle School in Wuchang, where he felt inferior and discriminated against because of his poverty. He graduated at age 21 and worked as an English teacher while doing part-time studies at a small Bible school. In 1907, he became a full-time teacher in Wuchang and in 1909 in Yidu. In 1920, he went to Wheaton College, Illinois, to study for his bachelor of arts degree and returned in 1922 to teach at Yidu (Chingchow) Theological School. Following the incident of 30 May 1925 in which British troops killed a number of unarmed student demonstrators in Shanghai, he was forced to resign from his teaching post. For the next two years, he served as chaplain in the army of Feng Yu Xiang, the Christian general. When Feng aligned his army with the Kuomintang, Chen resigned from the chaplaincy and visited Europe and America in 1928 upon the invitation of the Swedish Missionary Society. He returned and taught Bible and theology at the Bible school in Changsha, Hunan, until the school was closed during the Japanese War. He then became an independent preacher in Sichuan. He visited Singapore in 1941, where he stated for two years because of the Japanese invasion. Later, he returned to Chongqing via Thailand, Vietnam, and Guangdong. In Sep 1943, Chen set up the Chongqing Theological Seminary and served as its president until 1953. Together with Wu Yaozong and others, he initiated the TSPM in 1950.
Chen claimed that is anti-imperialist and nationalistic sentiments traced back to the entry of the eight-nation army into Beijing after the Boxer Rebellion. Following that event, he feared losing his own country. During his middle-school years, he was torn between reform and revolution. He decided in favor of the latter because the revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen was a Christian. Chen was in Yidu, a Manchu garrison city, when the revolution of Oct 1911 broke out, but he managed to escape capture by the Manchu army. His pro-Communist and Pro-Russia convictions arose from his reading of Marxist literature and his appreciation of Russian aid to China. His membership in the Sino-Soviet Friendship Association and the People’s Alliance shocked many Christians.
In his final years, Chen spoke out against the corruption of the Communist Party of China (CPC) during the “Hundred Flowers” movement (1957). When the 10th plenum of the TSPM (28 Oct-Dec 1957) adopted a strong left, socialist agenda, Chen was one of seven church leaders who received intense criticism. Although he was severely criticized until his death, his funeral in Mar 1963 was conducted by Y. T. Wu, an indication that he died in good standing with the TSPM.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from A Dictionary of Asian Christianity, copyright © 2001 by Scott W. Sunquist, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.
- Documents of the Three-Self Movement (1963). Wickeri, Philip, Seeking the Common Ground (1988).